Art as Artifact presents oil paintings by Dona Simons both before and after they were flooded by the levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina.
Dona Simons finds painting in the dreamlike settings of aquariums to be an inspired form of meditation. She has created paintings at aquariums in New Orleans and on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. After years of portraying brilliantly colored sea anemones and corals, she began including something else under the sea.
In her work, Simons’ passion for original Louisiana music began to find expression. In 2004 she completed a series of oil paintings titled “Louisiana Music Below Sea Level” presenting contemporary musicians performing in undersea settings. The underwater environment became her own visual metaphor for her city of New Orleans - well before Hurricane Katrina. Because of this series, an art critic at French newspaper Nice Matin later labeled her, “without doubt visionary.” In a sense the artwork foretold its own fate.
On August 30, 2005, the levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina flooded her artwork, her studio and her home. A lifetime of work sat in seven feet of water for three weeks.
In November 2008, she exhibited the flooded paintings, hanging from the studs in her gutted skeletal former home. The home and studio have since been demolished.
A selection of these paintings are presented in this catalog in the states both before and after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans musicians depicted in some of the paintings also lost homes to the flood.
Art as Artifact tells a visual story of Simons’ life and work. In addition to prescient aspects of the paintings’ subject matter, a story is told by the stains, tears and waterlines now on the canvases. The damage speaks of a specific catastrophic event in a specific time and place. It has added a dimension of historical significance: traumatic experience transformed into testament to history. The paintings have become collaborative works with Hurricane Katrina as the final artist.
Katrina now resides in history. Art as Artifact provides a glimpse into its effects as well as the world Dona Simons has created in her oil paintings.